Going to Chicago

Sometimes a turn in the Borreson family story will raise more questions than answers for me. How sisters Mabel and Clara ended up in greater Chicago is one of those. Maybe one of you can tell me.

In “Finding Their Way in the City,” a chapter by David Mauk in Norwegian American Women, he said the migration from rural America had varied reasons: a greater need for women’s skills in the city, especially domestic; one less mouth to feed, plus income sent back home in some cases; jobs or education in the city. Women often stayed in the city, he wrote, but men traveled back and forth. Mauk said that in Chicago in the early 1900s, many found work at tailoring (seamstress, dressmaker), but other opportunities began to open up in nursing, stores, office work, and as matrons in charitable institutions.

So, how did Mabel and Clara find their way to Chicago? Was it before or after they were married? I think Sid told me that Clara first taught school in the Eau Claire area, and I see (in Homestead, 42) that she married Ernest Cook in 1929 (not in Knapp, but at the home farm, according to Sid). Clara wrote that she and Ernest worked as a couple (chauffeur, butler, cook) for wealthy families during depression years, 1929 to ca. 1935. Mabel was married to Carl Okerwall from Sweden in 1928. By 1967 Carl had been a sexton at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church for 36 years, which puts his starting date as 1931.

But my question remains unanswered: what was the itinerary to Chicago or Evanston? Perhaps the answer is connected to how these two sisters met their husbands. As I thought about this, I recalled that their photo in an earlier post showed them back on the farm but dressed in big city finery. It sure would be fun to know about the “road less travelled” for them compared to many others in the family. Can anyone help me out?

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